Here is the second half of my conversation with Duncan Hunter on the inaugural installment of the daily CQ Radio show. Part 1 can be found here.
EM: Let’s move on to the borders. Now, you live nearby the border in southern California, and obviously this is an issue politically. How susceptible are we on the southern border to terrorist infiltration because of our border situation?
DH: Well, we’re very susceptible to infiltration of anything because we have essentially open borders, except for the small area in California where I built the double border fence. Let me tell you, as a congressman who represented that area, what we had in the mid-1980s was basically a no-man’s-land between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. In that area, what I call Smuggler’s Corridor #1, was the area through which most of the people and most of the narcotics that came into the entire United States were smuggled. They came through that narrow gap. So we built the double border fence, and at the time that we built it, we had armed gangs that roamed that no-man’s land. They often robbed the illegal aliens; many of them carried automatic weapons. They would abuse the women, and it was so terrible that we had a plainclothes police force that dressed like illegal aliens, headed by a Sergeant Lopez, who came from the San Diego Police Department. They would hang around by the border, wait for the border gangs to attack them, then they would pull their weapons and they’d have either a shootout or a series of arrests. It was that bad.
Nobody would go down to the border at night, and of course it was the center of the American smuggling industry because we have two massive freeways that went right down to the border. Once they got across, people or narcotics, they would immediately be on those freeways and gone. I built the double border fence and we reduced the smuggling of people and narcotics by more than 90%. Let me tell you, my fence is not that scraggly little fence you see on CNN with people climbing over it. Nobody climbs over my fence. It’s a double fence; you’ve got a steel fence on the border. True, they can get over that fence because they can put a ladder up to it. They then have to run across a 50-yard wide high-speed border patrol road inside the United States that parallels the border. Then they’ve got a 15-foot high fence with a large overhang to it. And what happens is you have border patrol patrolmen patrolling in between the fences, and when the smugglers come across, they get trapped between the two fences. Because of that, we reduced smuggling of people and narcotics by more than 90% in that sector, and we would reduce it way down close to 100%, but the environmentalists kept us from closing a three-mile gap in the fence because they claim that the flora and the fauna and the birds would not migrate over that particular section of fence. They kept it open for a number of years, and we’re just now getting permission to close it. But when we built that border fence, we reduced smuggling of people and narcotics by more than 90%, we stopped the border murders, and we stopped all the drug drive throughs, and let me tell you something else: the crime rate in the City of San Diego by FBI statistics since we built the border fence has fallen 53%. There is a large criminal population that goes back and forth across the border, and right now in America’s penitentiaries, local prisons and jails, we have over 250,000 criminal aliens. Those are people who have come across to hurt Americans, many violent crimes, some of them these MS-13 gang members who are so violent their home countries won’t take them back. We spend 3 billion dollars a year putting those people up, incarcerating them. We would save enough money in one year of incarceration to be able to build 1,000 miles of border fence.
So in October, I wrote a bill that was put in…the provisions that were put into the Homeland Security bill that passed the Senate, passed the House, and the President signed that extends the San Diego border fence, the double fence, 854 miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. That is now a law that that fence is supposed to be built. So far, the Department of Homeland Security with its great lack of speed, has only built two miles of that border fence. They started it at Yuma, Arizona. As President of the United States, I will finish that fence. I’ll build it from start to finish in six months. It’s just a fence. You take sections of that fence and you give them to individual contractors and they all start with a one- or a two-mile section at the same time; they build it concurrently, and we can do a great deal to sew up our borders within six months with the border fence, which is now the law, and there’s now $1 billion cash on hand sitting at the Department of Homeland Security available to build the border fence. You elect Duncan Hunter President of the United States; you’re going to have a border fence.
EM: Well, Congressman Hunter, the border fence bill was passed last year. There’s been some talk that the Congress might reverse that this year, and also that the current administration isn’t exactly enthusiastic about building that fence and might drag their heels on it. What are you hearing about that?
DH: Here’s the answer to that. When I mandated the construction of the border fence in San Diego under the Clinton Administration, when the Republicans took control of Congress in ’94, I wrote the bill that mandated that we build that fence in the number one smuggler’s corridor in San Diego. That was a triple fence. The Clinton Administration did not like it and they said, “Well, we’d rather not.” I said, “Look at the words I used. The word is ‘shall’. It doesn’t say you might do it. It doesn’t say it’d be a good idea. It says you shall build a border fence. That’s the law; now build it.” The Clinton Administration confronted the fact that it was the law, that they were ordered to build it, that the law was signed by the President, and they built the border fence. So, if I used exactly the same language in writing the bill this year that says take the San Diego fence and build it all the way across 854 miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; I used exactly the same mandatory language; and the Bush Administration is under exactly the same mandate, and they need to follow the law. Now if you call Homeland Security, they’ll say, “Yes, we’re going to follow the law,” but you can tell that they’re obviously not enthusiastic about building it. It’s been four months now and they’ve built a total of about two miles. Now that’s either massive ineptitude, or it’s a desire to tap dance on this thing and hope that somebody changes the law. But actually it’s the law right now that the fence be built. It’s not a suggestion, and it’s not a discretionary thing where they can do this or something else. It says 854 miles of real fence.
EM: Let me ask you now about the War on Terror. It’s obviously another key part of your platform. Do you think that we’ve lost our way in the War on Terror at this point?
DH: No, I think that the war against terror does not come wrapped in a neat package. It involves many, many dimensions. It involves American forces and intelligence capabilities in lots of remote parts of the world and actually, in a way, we’ve done a lot of things right. You know if people were going to make a bet on 9/11 as to whether or not we would be hit again over the next six years, probably most folks would vote that we probably would be. They would think that it was logical to feel that we would be struck again. One reason we haven’t been struck again, first we’ve been very fortunate, one reason we haven’t been is that we’ve gone after the bad guys aggressively. It’s tough to be able to put together a plan for a strike of the United States if some of your planners don’t show up because they’re dead. We aggressively went after the bad guys, and the Administration should be commended for that. Let’s not blast everything that we’ve done with our intelligence and our military apparatus, because we’ve done a lot of things right. This war is a difficult war with lots of dimensions. It’s not a war that’s going to culminate with a surrender on the Battleship Missouri; it’s a war that’s going to take a lot of American endurance. Sometimes endurance and patience is a quality that we have a short supply of. We have to develop patience and endurance.
We are bolstering our intelligence capability. That’s extremely difficult to do. It’s extremely difficult to penetrate places like the Middle East with our intelligence apparatus. We had an intelligence apparatus that really was shaped for Europe. It was shaped for the Cold War, and you have lots of people who if you asked them to go out in our agencies and try to recruit folks who are operatives in the Middle East, you’re going to get blank stares. They don’t have language skills, they don’t have contacts, and intelligence apparatus, especially the human part, is very painstakingly put together. We’re slowly putting that together.
EM: What have we done in the five years to try to get the people with the language skills and try to penetrate some of those areas? We’ve talked about remaking the intelligence community since 9/11, and it’s been kind of a slow process. Do you think that we, I mean have we made much progress at all there?
DH: Yeah, we’ve made progress and without getting into classified stuff, it takes relationship building. I mean, the person that’s going to give you information on a situation that’s developing in a foreign country, who may have a job or a position that’s close by where he’ll be able to observe and understand what’s happening and get that back to you, developing that relationship is something that takes a period of time. That’s what intelligence is; human intelligence is a series of developed relationships. There’s no quick fix on that things. You can’t microwave and you can’t e-mail a relationship. It’s something that takes a long time. In the 1990s under the Clinton Administration, we divested ourselves of a huge part of our case managers, our operators, our people who have those relationships. It’s hard to sew those back together in a short period of time. My answer is that it’s a lot better than it was a few years ago, and because of our presence in the Middle East right now, we have a lot of connections and a lot of contacts. But maturing those contacts in the long term, a long-term intelligence apparatus, is a slow building process. But it’s getting better. We have what is known as national technical means — that is our apparatus gives us eyes and ears through technical capability. That’s been developing apace and that’s helpful to us. Also the intelligence capability that emanates from our war fighters is also pretty substantial. So it’s an imperfect situation and you’ve got other places in the world, like North Korea, where you have almost no penetration, and it’s very difficult to ever get intelligence penetration from a closed society with massive scrutiny, especially if it’s governmental efficiency. So we have certain areas where we just have to work with big blind spots.
To answer your question, we have reacted with lots of efficiencies in small compartmentalized areas against these people who have tried to kill Americans. The fact that you have Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who is the prime architect according to his own testimony and who will be coming up for trial, one of the guys who’s been held in Guantanamo — if the Democrats don’t follow through on this kind of silly insistence that we either try them or free them, we’re going to be trying that guy. That’s one of the guys responsible for killing millions of Americans. He was picked up in a very efficient way. Zarqawi, as you know, was killed in Iraq in a safe house, also a function of America’s intelligence operations, our capability to couple that with precision strike. So we have made a lot of small victories in places where the American people don’t see the victory, but what they do see is we’ve gone without a strike on our homeland for a number of years now, which is quite remarkable and quite a testament to the people who serve in the US military and US intelligence agencies. Now we can always get better and we have to keep building, but once again this is not a system. Human intelligence is not a system that you can turn out with a microwave. It’s long term.
EM: I know we’re going to have to let you go pretty quick because you’re on a tight schedule here, Congressman Hunter, but just to talk a little bit about the race, we’ve seen a couple of people jump out into an early lead in early polling in the Republican primary. It’s tough for a Congressman to run for President. I think you’ve probably got the best résumé of anybody who’s tried that in a very long time. What’s your strategy to try to pull some of that momentum away from the two or three people who seem to be enjoying more of it right now?
DH: Well, first you have to get the word out. Our website is www.gohunter08.com and that tells you a lot about our campaign. If you go to that website, you can find out a lot about what we’re doing. But this is a building process, and I think that the publicity will follow the message. I’ve been doing a lot of national shows based on my work on the Armed Services Committee as a former Chairman and now ranking member, so we get some good coverage there. We’ve gone from, in a national poll in January we were at basically at zero percent in the polls; nobody knew about me. In February we went to 1% and in this last poll we went to 2%. Now that doesn’t sound like much, but I think in that same poll Mr. Romney was at 7%, so he’s only five ahead of me and he’s spent $12 million so far. Now in the areas where we can focus, like the Arizona straw poll among elected Republican leaders, I won that straw poll because they knew about my border fence and they voted for me. In the biggest straw poll that’s been held in South Carolina where people had to actually go to the polls and vote – that’s the Spartanburg Straw Poll (that was the one carried live on Fox News – I came in within one percentage point of the top of McCain and Giuliani at 22%, and I beat Romney by 2-1, even though he probably spent 2- or 300,000 on that straw poll. So, my point is where we can focus and get our message out, we get lots of votes. What I have to do is keep working, keep being on shows like yours and keep getting this message out to the American people. I think that at some point the money follows the message because big donors, especially multi-national companies, have operations in China and elsewhere are not the folks that in the end control the American political scene. Whether you donate $2,300 or $5, everybody has one vote. I think our message is one that resonates with average Americans, folks that carry a lunch bucket for a living and don’t necessarily have a piece of stock in a company that’s overseas, that really care deeply about this country. I think that among people that really care deeply about this country, I’ve got a lot of support.
EM: Congressman Hunter, thank you for sharing that with us today. I would hope to have you back soon. Best of luck to you. I think you are picking up some traction here and I look forward to talking to you as one of the frontrunners.
DH: Well listen, thank you. Thank you so much and frontrunner or not, I look forward to being back on your show and thank you, and God bless our country.
EM: Thank you sir, I appreciate it. That was Congressman Duncan Hunter, who is running for President and also the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, one of the genuine good guys there in Congress. You can see Congressman Hunter’s efforts to run for President at www.gohunter08.com.